Effects of Tryptophan: The Truth about Holiday Food Comas

Have you ever wondered why you feel so tired after Thanksgiving dinner every year? Is it the effects of tryptophan in the turkey you're eating or is it just fatigue from cooking and eating a larger-than-average meal? Get ahead of the game this year by knowing what really causes your post-holiday meal fatigue, and use these tips to enjoy a healthier Thanksgiving holiday.

Does Tryptophan Make You Tired?

Turkey is usually the main course of a Thanksgiving meal, but it gets a bad rap about making people tired because it contains a good amount of tryptophan, an amino acid that's not only found in turkey, but also in other poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese. Eating tryptophan helps boost the level of serotonin, the feel-good chemical, in your body, and it's often converted to another chemical called melatonin, which can help regulate and encourage sleep. However, the only way you can truly blame tryptophan for your Thanksgiving fatigue is if you only ate turkey at the meal.

Texas A&M University professor and nutrition expert Dr. Nicolaas Deutz has completed extensive research on tryptophan-enriched diets, and he says that the tryptophan content in turkey has "nothing to do" with why people feel tired after eating it. American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN also says that turkey actually doesn't contain any more tryptophan than other poultry meats, so there's no reason to think that eating it makes you sleepier than eating chicken, for instance.

Other Causes of Holiday Fatigue

So why do we feel so tired after a big holiday binge? Eating a very large meal often makes you feel tired because your digestive system has to work extra hard to process the large amount of food, and it takes up a lot of your body's energy to do so. If you also drink a few glasses of wine, eat extra carbohydrates, and spend the day chopping vegetables, basting the turkey, and peeling potatoes, the post-Thankgiving fatigue is likely due to common fatigue and overindulgence, rather than the amino acids in your turkey.

Energizing Tips

If you want to feel a little less tired after this year's Thanksgiving feast, don't worry about the effects of tryptophan. Instead, try out a few of the following tips to help avoid the dreaded holiday food coma:

  • Drink extra water throughout the day before you eat the big meal. Keeping your body fully hydrated will help you avoid feeling overly hungry at the start of your meal and will also help ease digestion.
  • Fill half of your plate with colorful vegetables and eat them first. By filling up on healthier greens and carrots first, you'll not only get a dose of filling fiber, but you'll also be less likely to overeat the most filling meats, cheeses, sides, and desserts.
  • Put down your fork between every bite or two, and take a breath to engage with your family and friends. Allowing no less than 10 seconds to pass between bites will give your body a chance to realize it's full before you've eaten too much.
  • Volunteer to wash dishes when the meal is over, or round up a group to take a walk around the block. Keeping your body upright and gently moving will not only encourage digestion, but it will help you reenergize after sitting down for a long meal.

Before you start your next holiday meal, remember that avoiding the tryptophan in turkey won't help you avoid a holiday food coma. Instead, keep yourself hydrated, reach for colorful healthy foods, eat with more intention, and stay active after the meal. With these tips, you'll be feeling much more energized and comfortable at the end of the day.

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